Precision medicine and innovation in research, protagonists at the World Cancer Day Conference

The Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus has organised the World Cancer Day Conference as part of World Cancer Day, today, 4 February.


The Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus has organised the World Cancer Day Conference as part of World Cancer Day, today, 4 February. For an hour and a half, professionals from the different Campus institutions talked and presented new treatments and research into cancer.

The event started with the welcome speech by Dr Albert Salazar, who recalled the efforts made by the Campus in 2021 “in both research and healthcare in a complicated pandemic year” and made special mention of patients with cancer “who we have been with and will continue to be with throughout the pandemic, as we have maintained our oncological activity at all times”. “We work in multidisciplinary teams and have all available knowledge, which means we can obtain the best results for people with cancer”, stressed Dr Albert Salazar.

After the welcome, the conference introductory lecture was given by Dr Enriqueta Felip, section head at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital Medical Oncology Department, principal investigator in the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) Thoracic Tumours and Head and Neck Cancer Group and chair of the Spanish Medical Oncology Society (SEOM). Dr Enriqueta Felip reviewed the world situation with regard to cancer, a disease that can develop in 200 different types and which affects 2.5 million new Europeans each year, a figure that is increasing due to ageing populations and environmental conditions.

“To prevent and treat cancer we need to understand it well and work to communicate with the public, starting at school, to combat risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol and sedentary lifestyles”, said Dr Enriqueta Felip, stressing the Vall d’Hebron has a spirit of improvement and evaluation that “permits improvements in the survival, quality of life and experience of cancer patients”.

With regard to precision medicine in oncology provided at Vall d’Hebron, she explained that “it means we can offer appropriate treatment to patients in line with their biomarkers” and stated that implementing the Catsalut Precision Oncology Programme, chaired by Dr Josep Tabernero, “has permitted everyone with cancer in Catalonia to access this treatment”.

It is worth noting Vall d’Hebron has applied for Organisation European Cancer Institute (OECI) accreditation, an external assessment method to verify that a set of qualitative and quantitative standards for integrated multidisciplinary care in cancer treatment and research are met. This would integrate Vall d’Hebron into a European community of leading centres and institutes.

Precision oncology medicine, one of the key topics at the Conference

After the introductory lecture, the first discussion panel of the Conference was held, entitled “Incorporating precision medicine into the treatment of patients”. Dr Josep Tabernero, head of Hospital Vall d’Hebron Medical Oncology Department and VHIO director, chaired the debate and explained that “from the scientific societies, we have been putting pressure on the state and autonomous communities to implement the precision medicine model”. In Catalonia, the government accepted the challenge from the start “which is why today we have a Precision Oncology Programme”, he stated.

Dr Josep Tabernero explained that Vall d’Hebron is a world leader with regard to the speed at which it starts precision cancer treatment, as “we now start treatment just two weeks after diagnosis”, and he called for an increase in cancer research. “The medicine we have 15 years from now will depend on the research we do today, and all this must be financed by public and private funds”, noted Dr Josep Tabernero.

Dr Lucas Moreno, head of the Paediatric Oncology and Haematology Department and head of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) Cancer and Haematological Diseases Group, stressed that the Catsalut Precision Oncology Programme “means we can give all children with tumours at Vall d’Hebron access to advanced sequencing techniques that open the doors to many more treatments”. Dr Lucas Moreno stressed that “it is a privilege to work in this Campus” because it has a comprehensive model that “covers everything from the most basic research to clinical investigation” such as clinical trials and the development and implementation of new devices. “We cover the whole spectrum to treat people with cancer, which is what motivates us”, he stated.

For his part, Dr Santiago Ramón y Cajal, head of the Pathological Anatomy Department and head of the VHIR Translational Molecular Pathology Group, said that one of the pillars for implementing precision medicine is “digitalising pathological diagnosis, which gives us much more data and allows us to network with all specialists”. He also explained that the model of success in Catalonia is thanks to the fact that “all the institutions have, above all, thought about the public system, from top to bottom, with government support and coordinating our actions thinking only of the patient”.

Also participating in the discussion was a cancer patient, Juan García Vicente, who stated that “thanks to precision medicine I have not had to undergo chemotherapy, which means I have felt well throughout treatment and continued to play sport”.

Innovation in treatment and research

After this was the second and last discussion panel of the Conference, entitled “Treatment and Innovative Research”, chaired by Dr Anna Santamaria, coordinator of the Oncology Area and head of the Biomedical Research in the VHIR Urology Group. This second discussion, focussing more on research, was started by Dr Francesc Bosch, head of the Haematology Department and principal investigator of the VHIO Experimental Haematology Group, who explained that CAR T-cell therapies provide a cure for 40% of people with cancers that were untreatable before their introduction. “At Vall d’Hebron we have already treated 200 patients with CAR T-cells, a third of them in clinical trials. We are leaders in Spain”. Dr Francesc Bosch explained that this treatment has a degree of toxicity, so requires the “collaboration of many different specialists and the work of a multidisciplinary team”.

Dr Ana Vivancos, principal investigator of the VHIO Cancer Genomics Group, stated that “in translational research we continue to develop tests that help us find new treatments for tumours”. In particular, the field of liquid biopsy “has opened up new horizons for finding new biomarkers and posing new challenges in oncology, a whole range of issues, such as advanced patient monitoring, which were previously inconceivable”.

Dr Ibane Abasolo, head of the VHIR CIBBIM-Nanomedicine, Drug Delivery and Targeting Research Group, noted that “in the field of oncology, nanomedicine is the specialisation that has advanced the most”, and explained that there are already 50 drugs using nanotechnology. “Now, at Vall d’Hebron we are investing in third-generation nanoparticles, which offer a more tailored treatment and an earlier diagnosis”, stated Dr Ibane Abasolo.

Finally, Cristina Casal, a VHIO clinical research oncology nurse, also took part in the discussion, providing a view of the role of nurses in cancer research, explaining that clinical trial nurses “have a great ability to adapt, to empathise with patients, who normally do not know how the trials work, to constantly refresh their knowledge and continually train”. Cristina Casal also stated that the role of nurses has changed with the entry of new cancer treatments. “We carry out so many trials, of increasing complexity, that we have had to create new oncology nursing profiles that complement comprehensive care for people”.

Dr Antonio Roman, the Hospital’s healthcare director, closed the World Cancer Day Conference, reiterating that cancer is an epidemic which “we must never forget”, as it causes 10 million deaths a year worldwide. For this reason, he said that “4 February must be kept as a day for reflection on this disease”. “Vall d’Hebron is deeply committed to combating this disease, which is why today we have organised this conference for the third year running, bringing together the professionals from the Campus involved in it”, he stated. Finally, he stressed that “both professionals and patients see that Vall d’Hebron offers added value”. Therefore, “we must give an appropriate response to all these expectations. We have the talent, the determination and the strength to continue fighting cancer”, concluded Dr Antonio Roman.

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